No sidelining of transnational marriages

As transnational unions step out of the shadows, more governments are having to address the import of the changes these can trigger across a spectrum of social spaces. In Singapore, it is the sheer magnitude of the demographic shift that is taking place that makes it imperative that policies relating to transnational pairings become more transparent, proactive and judiciously supportive.

Three in 10 marriages involve a Singaporean and a foreigner, which represents a sharp rise in the figure a decade ago. What is also arresting is the growing proportion of babies born to Singaporean parents and their foreign spouses - now forming a quarter. Against this, only half of the babies born here have parents who are both Singapore citizens. A new type of family is clearly in the making with broad implications for social life, the labour market and politics. Hence, notwithstanding the baleful overhang of anti-foreigner sentiments, policy gears had to be shifted by the Government.

As it is a stable family that is the pivot for greater participation of transnational couples in society, the emphasis is correctly placed on ways to ensure that all key factors are made plain before the knot is tied. If the central relationship is fraught with difficulties - arising, for example, from hypogamous tensions - families will be put at risk.

Implicit in the support for such families are paradoxical objectives of both strengthening ties to the nation while allowing the creation of networks across borders. The "Being Singaporean" project, such as it is, can take on an added sense of purpose in seeking to draw more transnational families into the fold. Meanwhile, links that foreign spouses have with families and friends abroad can be tapped for other purposes as well, especially useful for small-time entrepreneurs who lack access to regional networks under the aegis of government agencies or business federations.

The inclusiveness effort has to go beyond the state as transnational marriages have a national context as much as these are rooted in individual and personal situations. Aspects of a sense of belonging and loyalty to the nation might assume greater significance if couples feel torn between two shores. And issues of mobility, economic opportunity and social capital can take on a different hue in such families, particularly if they are afflicted by the loss of a Singaporean breadwinner.

If fully embraced, such families can indeed contribute to the "Singaporean core", too, and help make up for the baby deficit that is likely to stay with the Republic in the years to come, even as it plods inexorably towards becoming a super-aged nation.